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Mad Men review: A new kind of family

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Bonding at Burger Chef

Warning: The below review contains major spoilers for Mad Men's episode, "The Strategy." Do not read unless you've watched the episode.
Photo credit: AMC

Mad Men has been less than awesome lately. I'm sure Matthew Wiener has plenty of ground he'd like to cover before the impending series finale next spring. It's not that, though. Nothing feels right. There have been funny and shocking moments (like Ginsberg's nipple) and there have even been extraordinarily sweet moments (like Don and Sally at the restaurant). Still, everything has felt off-kilter and not like the show I fell in love with.

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There are plenty of reasons for that feeling. Don's been in a weird position both in his business and personal life. The new guy in his office is abhorrent. Peggy has gone from being annoyingly needy to being a downright snot (and still she's not with Rizzo). Bob Benson has been missing. California Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is infinitely nicer and more amusing than the New York version, but there hasn't been enough of him. And there has been way, way too much of Megan.

This week, though, things began to feel a little more comfortable and more... right. At least for me.

This week's episode, "The Strategy" celebrated family, but not the one of the decade before. This week the viewer and the mad men themselves saw a glimpse of a more recognizable family. Throughout the show we witnessed a serious disconnect between Pete, Don and their respective families. Pete's daughter didn't even recognize him. Don's wife is collecting more of her belongings to take back to California in what appears to be a slow build toward separation. The "modern" family doesn't look like it did in Season 1: A husband, a wife and "a boy and a girl." Family, as we saw in the final scene, is what you make it. For the mad men, they found it in each other over dinner at Burger Chef after finding a new pitch for the company.

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And why are they family? Because they have each other's backs — something they aren't getting from anyone else.

Don (Jon Hamm) will always have Peggy's back, whether she believes it or not. Peggy's work husband is clearly Rizzo but he's got his own life and his own concerns — none of them being Peggy (Elisabeth Moss). When he stops by her office and fawns over Megan, Peggy is mad because Rizzo didn't ask how her cold run went. Rizzo, ever the clueless guy, doesn't get the issue. Peggy expects more than she'll probably ever get from Rizzo. She finds it, though, in Don. Not just in his actual presence, but in falling back on his ways. When she decides her first pitch isn't the right one, she goes into old-school Don mode: She yells at people, drinks and then naps. Finally, when Don shows up, she asks him to walk her through his process. Together they brainstorm and stumble upon the new way of family life: Eating dinner at a Burger Chef booth. After weeks of Peggy giving Don the cold shoulder, he gives her what she needs to let him back in: A little respect, a little guidance and maybe just an inkling of fatherly love. Between pitching and sharing with Don that, at 30, she doesn't see her life where she thought she would, they find themselves dancing to "My Way." It couldn't be more perfect. Both of the have made it to the near top of their game in unconventional ways, which is why (along with a few other dark secrets) they will always respect and, in a way, love each other.

In a completely atypical occurrence, it's Pete who has Don's back. If you remember back to the first season, Pete wanted nothing more than to root out Don and have his job. Now that they work in opposite offices, though, and Don's been taken down a few notches upon his return, Pete recognizes rooting against Don isn't the way to go. As a matter of fact, it's Pete who pushes to get Don back in the game and pulls for Don to pitch to Burger Chef, instead of Peggy. It's almost as if Pete went from a teenager rebelling against his authority figure to an adult who has learned to recognize how alike they are and, thus, realizes he should be rooting for Don.

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Who has Pete's back? That depends on how you look at it. To a certain extent, I don't believe there is anyone who would take a bullet for the twerp. There are two people, though, who seem to be able to put up with Pete even at his most petulant. In the final scene, at Burger Chef, it's Don who points out the ketchup on Pete's face and Peggy who hands him the napkin. Pete's an asset (somehow) and Peggy and Don are both smart enough to look after an asset.

Here's hoping that the Burger Chef dream team finds themselves in California together. Perhaps under a new banner. CDO has a nice ring to it, does it not?

Worst moment: Bob Benson's desperate proposal to Joan. 1) For reminding her that as a 40-year-old mother it might be her best offer. 2) Because he doesn't love her: He respects her and needs a beard.

Second worst moment: Harry Crane as partner?! Such BS. I'm guessing this will surely continue to drive a wedge between the rest of the partners.

Best moment: Don and Peggy dancing. Always.

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